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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Within reason, when I am old and grey, or older and greyer--depending on how noble Lords are looking at this time of night--then of course some younger colleagues in my party may well succeed me in being Ministers. I have absolute confidence in them approaching this matter sensibly. Leaving that aside, and going back to the serious point, I hope that, in the light of my explanation, which is obviously on the record, the noble Earl will feel that he has got me to put on the record what are our intentions and will feel that the amendments are not necessary.
Earl Russell: I thank the Minister for that reply. I propose to try to save the Committee's time. We have gone around this course several times already. So, unless he objects and wishes to intervene, I propose to represent as a dialogue his points and my points. If he objects to the way these are put, I will give way to him instantly.
First, in relation to subsection (1) I do not object to the categories of information the Minister proposes to prescribe. My response is that if that is what he wants to prescribe, why does he not say so? If he did, I would make no complaint about the clause.
The Minister will invoke, as he has a thousand times, the virtues of flexibility. I reply: why only his flexibility? He talks about adapting the provisions in the light of experience. Why only his experience? When have any such provisions been adapted in the light of Parliament's experience, or the local authority's experience, or the claimant's experience? Why should the experience of the Department of Social Security have this unique privilege? It does not seem to me to be reasonable.
He talked about the need to compare by means of an identical system of data. In the bureaucrats' heaven the world might indeed be like that. But things are very, very different from each other. I was suddenly reminded while the Minister was speaking of a speech by the late Lord Swann during debate on the education Bill in 1988. I quote from memory and may not be quoting exactly. Lord Swann referred to a questionnaire sent to university departments asking what they were doing to promote the values of free enterprise. Lord Swann said: "This caused considerable perplexity when it fetched up in various faculties of divinity". The Minister will see from that why I think the Procrustean power to compare identically matched data, though it does have its superficial attractions, comes out of the bureaucrats' heaven and the rest of the world's hell.
Finally, I am deeply disappointed that in subsection (4) the Minister has no intention of excluding children from the category of appropriate persons. Has he considered what that will do to relations between parents and children? If information is received from an innocently prattling 4 year-old which leads to the parents being evicted, the parents inevitably will feel
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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